Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Daddy of Leyland Cypress

The snow's come and gone again over the last few days. Referring back to my last blog entry, it made our oldest living willow fence look particularly attractive.

Mature living willow fence in the snow

You can get a good idea from this just how much growth a mature fence can produce each year. Some of these shoots are 10 feet long or more. They all have to be pruned off before the spring. It's a big job.

This view towards our cottage shows how two conifers dominate the treescape. Most of the deciduous trees you can see are ash and sycamore which are the most common trees of the hedgerows in this part of Ireland along with hawthorn, blackthorn and holly. So it's something of a surprise to find two fine conifers specimens planted around the yard of what was a traditional Irish farmhouse. And they're an unusual conifer for this area too - Nootka cypress, also known as Yellow Cypress and Alaska Cypress.

Two conifers dominate the trees around our cottage

The one on the right is a massive multi-stemmed tree about 60feet high and the one on the left a single stemmed tree probably 10 feet shorter. I haven't got much information on growth rates of Nootka Cypress in Ireland, but it's not a particularly fast growing tree anywhere so I reckon these specimens must be 80 to 100 years old - if not older.

Quite how an ordinary farming family came to be planting trees which at that time would have been quite exotic is hard to imagine. The first specimens of this North American native tree only reached Britain in the 1850s and I suspect it would have been a little time after when they reached Ireland. The answer may be found at Caher House about a mile away down the lake. The landscaped gardens of this fine house contain some rather special specimen trees including the largest Sitka spruce in Ireland. Could it be that the family did some work for the owners of Caher House and were given the young Nootka cypress trees to plant by their farmhouse.

Whatever the reason, they've left a legacy of two fine trees that are firm favourites with us. They have a beautiful pendulous habit which means the foliage reaches down to the ground and there's little bare trunk to be seen.

The larger specimen is multi-stemmed and around 60 ft high

The pendulous branches sweep down to the ground

The name derives from its discovery on the lands of a First Nation of Canada, the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who were formerly referred to as the Nootka. The tree is native to the west coast of North America from Alaska down to the northen part of California and favours wet sites with cool summers - ideal for Ireland then!

Its other claim to fame is that it is one of the parents of the hybrid tree, the Leyland Cypress. In fact, it was the planting the Nootka cypress alongside a botanically close relative the Monterey Cypress in a garden in Wales that gave the trees, that in nature never grew closer than 400 miles to each other, the chance to cross pollinate.

The result was actually a fine tree when planted in the right place, but as a hedging tree for suburban gardens it was a disaster. In 2005 in the United Kingdom, an estimated 17,000 people were at loggerheads over Leylandii hedges, which lead to violence and in at least one case murder, when in 2001, retired Environment Agency officer Llandis Burdon, 57, was shot dead after an alleged dispute over a leylandii hedge in Talybont-on-Usk, Powys - ironically just a few miles from Leighton Hall where the first Leyland Cypress had been discovered back in 1888.

So the claim to fame of Nootka Cypress as the daddy of the Leyland Cypress is perhaps a mixed one, but it certainly makes a fine tree in its own right and the treescape of our little cottage would be much the poorer if it were not there.


BT said...

Super post Twisty and I'd forgotten about it being the 'daddy' of the much maligned lelandii.

RainGardener said...

Love your living willow fence. I've never seen anything like that. In the pictures the needles (?)or green of the Cypress look like our Cedar trees. Great informative post.

debsgarden said...

This is a very interesting post. I love the look of your great cypress trees. I especially liker the way the branches weep to the ground. My guess is that a woman had something to do with planting those trees!